Craniosacral and Long Covid Recovery

Jan 15, 2022

Long Covid was not even part of our vocabulary two years ago and as physiotherapists, we are well placed to guide clients on the road towards recovery and rehabilitation. Medical and conservative management is evolving and can include similar advice given to sufferers of illnesses such as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), including pacing, frequently resting, breaking tasks into smaller chunks and continuing with exercise. However, the range of symptoms clients can experience with long covid makes it more challenging to manage, both for clients and health care professionals. Helping identify key symptoms will help in their management – breathlessness and insomnia for example may be managed differently from back pain and fatigue. As a physiotherapist and craniosacral therapist, I have now treated a significant number of clients effectively with craniosacral therapy. The gentle nature of the treatment and the fact that it is done with the client lying down, is instantly appealing! The fact that it is designed to be client led and a treatment which gently nourishes the nervous system means that it can help with many of the symptoms clients with long covid present with.

Julie is a 31 year old client who presented to me in March 2021 with a diagnosis of long covid (diagnosis given by a respiratory consultant) who now considers herself, in her own words, to be ‘fully recovered, I no longer have long covid’ – one year ago Julie was in a wheelchair, she is now running and training to do a 10km run!  I asked her to share her story and her experience with craniosacral therapy to shed some light and knowledge on alternatives to managing this complex condition. This account is in Julie’s own words.

“Long covid has been quite the journey. I was first unwell with covid in March 2020 and then the long covid followed. I experienced persistent shortness of breath, chest pain, extreme fatigue, brain fog, and post-exertional malaise. For the first year of my long covid journey I felt very lost. GPs told me that it would take time, but did not make any suggestions for things I could do to help myself to recover. There was some guidance online but it all seemed very abstract and difficult to implement in practice. For example, I learnt that I should try and pace, but figuring out what that looked like for me, without tailored support, was mind-bogglingly difficult.

Things turned around for me in March 2021 when I made an appointment with Vicky (a physio trained in craniosacral therapy). I went to her to try acupuncture, hoping that might help me in my recovery. She listened to my history and asked if I would be open to trying craniosacral therapy instead. She said that craniosacral would help my body as a whole, help my body to heal. And she was right – craniosacral therapy was just what I needed. I later learnt about the role of the autonomic nervous system in long covid from my yoga teacher Suzy Bolt (who specialises in long covid). And in my case, I do very much believe that I experienced a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. My nervous system was likely in a chronic state of fight or flight (a sympathetic overdrive). It probably already was in that chronic fight or flight state before I got covid. Covid was the last drop before my body said – nope, enough, and then essentially went in to a shut down mode. I realised that I needed to help shift my body into that rest and repair state (the parasympathetic state). One wonderful way to help the body shift into the lovely rest and repair state is via craniosacral therapy. It is so effective at soothing the nervous system. Using a Garmin watch I track my stress levels and it is remarkable how low they go after a craniosacral session with Vicky (my stress levels often go down to zero). It is so restorative. Other strategies that have helped me are regular meditation and yoga practice, building exercise back in extremely slowly with the guidance of Suzy and Vicky, cold water exposure, journaling, and, more generally, prioritising my wellbeing.”

I am sure you will agree, fundamentally, Julie improved because she took control. Julie made a decision to take control of her own health. I may have facilitated that, but I simply ‘nudged’ where her system was ready to go. Every client I have treated is different with a different presentation, a different back story and a different set of goals and plans. And of course, we therefore need to treat everyone with a tailored approach, client centred always, actively listening ears, empathetic views and expert hands guiding the road to recovery.

Craniosacral therapy may help your long covid journey to recovery. If you’d like to find out more or you would like to book an appointment with one of our clinicians Vicky, Mark or Janet, head to our website

Many thanks Julie!

Vicky Smith, Physiotherapist, Craniosacral therapist, Pilates Instructor and owner/ founder Tayloredfit Physio